Online trolls on a German petition site with more than 3 million users are waiving their anonymity, researchers found.
The analysis revealed that commenters who commit hate speech on the platform are more likely than not to actually reveal their identity, rather than hide behind anonymity.
Lea Stahel, a research assistant at the University of Zurich, told Huffington Post UK that the findings demonstrated the significance of the individual community: “If people are surrounded by a supportive audience, they feel they have no need to hide.”
Stahel explained that commenters might be comfortable being identified on the platform because petitions tend to attract like-minded people.
In a statement, the researchers added that many trolls “justify their protest as a moral duty” and don’t fear being held to account.
Finally, the study claimed that it was easier for trolls to mobilise friends through social networks if they appear using their real names.
The findings could apply to trolls in any online environment with a supportive audience, according to the academics.
Stahel said that the findings could also be extrapolated to Twitter trolling, but only in cases where trolls weren’t regularly coming up against adversaries.
Most of the “fire storms” researched by the team involved groups of people rallying around a single cause with very few contrary voices.
The researchers chose openpetition.de because it enabled them to compare different “fire storms” directly, without needing to compensate for differences across platforms.
Stahel said: ”Removing anonymity therefore will not automatically lead to a disappearance of online firestorms. In fact, it might even lead to an increase.”
Several prominent figures, including most recently the actor Leslie Jones, have quit Twitter in the past few months after receiving abuse.